clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Game 69 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Atlanta Thrashers

The Time: 7:00 PM EST EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (32-32-4) vs. the Atlanta Thrashers (29-28-12)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted the not-quite-so-hated-rivals Islanders on Saturday night. While the Devils started off well and even scored a goal in the first period, they had a poor second period and found themselves down 2-1 heading into the third.  Like many times over the last month or so, New Jersey turned up the pressure in the third, dominated the Isles - who decided taking several penalties and not attack was a good choice.  The Devils tied it up and Anssi Salmela won the game in overtime with a shot so sweet I can't really do it just it with an analogy or metaphor.  The Devils won 3-2 and my recap of the game is here.

The Last Thrashers Game: While the Devils were busy with the Isles, the Thrashers were in Philadelphia to play the Flyers. The first 40 minutes went very poorly for Atlanta, as the Flyers put up a 3 goal lead heading into the third period. At that point, the game got really interesting.  The Thrashers put one up on the board quickly in the third. A little past halfway, they got a second goal, but a minute or so later Ville Leino completed his hat trick to make it 4-2. Sounds safe, right? The Flyers proceeded to collapse by allowing a third goal with at about 3 minutes to play and an equalizer in the final minute.  A 4 goal third period by Atlanta and Ron Hainsey scored in overtime to complete the improbable comeback - a 5-4 overtime win for the Thrashers.  Over at Bird Watchers Anonymous, hildymac discusses the big turnaround.

The Last Devils-Thrashers Game:  The two teams played each other just last Friday in Atlanta. After yet another 0-0 first period, the Thrashers struck first with a one-timer from Blake Wheeler. The Devils responded on the power play when Travis Zajac (eventually) put a puck in on Ondrej Pavelec's flank. The Thrashers re-took the lead on their third power play of the evening when Dustin Byfuglien fired a shot from the point that beat a fallen-by-way-of-Nik-Antropov Martin Brodeur.  Yet, Atlanta couldn't hold on as Ilya Kovalchuk put back a rebound on a power play.  Overtime was necessary and the Devils power play struck gold again as Zajac re-directed Patrik Elias' pass into the wide-open net to win it 3-2.  Yes, the Devils power play won them the game. I can hardly believe it myself even now, but it did. My recap of the rather recent win is right here.

The Goal: Be vigilant in the slot and around the crease.  As hildymac showed at Bird Watchers Anonymous, the Thrashers made their improbable comeback over the Flyers by crashing the net and getting to rebounds and loose pucks.   Sure, you could say they were lucky that the puck bounced their way that many times.  However, it's certainly something they're going to try to do again and for more than just one period.   The Devils defensemen need to be ready for a lot of battles down low, and the backchecking forwards must be alert to help out by going after those loose pucks, providing additional coverage on defense, and/or pressuring the shots coming in on the perimeter. Hoping the goaltender will see all of the attempts or that the puck won't bounce Atlanta's way is a foolish plan; I believe the Devils must take initiative in their own end as well as on offense.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For opinions about the Thrashers, please check out Bird Watchers Anonymous.

Since these two teams just played each other a few days ago, there's not a whole lot new about their team that I can say.  Please check out the preview for Friday's game for a better overall look at what Atlanta's all about this season.  I will point out how experienced the Thrashers are in overtime games.  As Chris Vivlamore pointed out in his preview at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Thrashers have played in 25 games that went beyond regulation and won 10 of them this season.    In fact, their last four games all went into overtime - and the only one they lost was to New Jersey last Friday.  Going beyond 60 won't faze them; and they'll be more careful with their sticks in OT if it comes to that tonight.

Therefore, I really hope the Devils can take this game in regulation.  A secondary goal, if you will. Devils have been quite hot beyond regulation in recent weeks - 5 overtime wins and 1 shootout win in the last 6 times the game went beyond 60 minutes.  Yet, it is in their best interests to get a lead, keep it, and look to extend it to seal the win. (Aside: Sitting in a defensive shell isn't that wise of an idea according to this post at Behind the Net.) They haven't won a game by more than one goal since February 19, and their last win in regulation was the 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on March 2.   Getting and keeping a more substantial lead would do wonders for the team's confidence. It would be easier for them if only so they do not have to go through the final 20 minutes either looking for an equalizer or hoping the opposition doesn't have one great bounce or one great shift or one great whatever that either ties or wins the close game. 

According to Tom Gulitti's report on Monday's practice, expect the mostly the same line up.  Even in goal, as Gulitti noted that Martin Brodeur is likely to start tonight.  The only change appears to be Rod Pelley playing in place of Adam Mair.  That's fine - the fourth line's not going to change too much with Pelley in there instead of Mair.  The line  to watch for is the third line (I guess?) of Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, and David Clarkson. All three had an awesome game against the Islanders.  Both in terms of production and possession.  It's only one game, but another good game from them would be encouraging in terms of having a third viable line against the opposition.

As usual, you'll also want to focus on Ilya Kovalchuk.  In addition to being the team's leading goal scorer (and only one point behind Elias) and his beast-like tendencies, he has been excellent against his former team.  He has 3 goals and an assist in 4 games against the Thrashers, including one on Friday.  Kovalchuk's percentages have been great in recent months, which is all the more reason to see how he'll do with a crowd cheering him on instead of booing him.

Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Monday that Ondrej Pavelec will start in net.  The Devils made him work on Friday and ultimately could only beat him in spots where he had no chance (two goals off his flank and one rebound).   While the Devils are familiar with him, he and his defense are just as familiar with what New Jersey does when they attack.   It's not really an advantage either way.  Good luck to the Devils offense in going after a goaltender who's seen a lot of pucks this season.  Even strength will be key, since I doubt the Devils will get 6 power play opportunities again, much less make the most of nearly all of them.

Of course, the headline to Vivlamore's post cannot really be ignored: Dustin Byfuglien isn't guaranteed to play tonight.  His absence would be huge for the Devils, one less big-minute, go-forward defenseman who loves to shoot and use his size for Atlanta.  That said, I wouldn't get my hopes up.  He was also questionable for Friday's game and actually played on Friday.  In fact, he played rather well with 7 shots on net.  While the Thrashers called up a defenseman, I wouldn't be surprised if Byfuglien does play (a lot) tonight.

Even if he doesn't, Atlanta's not devoid of offense. Not at all. Their top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler will be the most dangerous for the Devils defense to deal with.  They were strong on Friday night, Ladd and Little are among leading scorers on Atlanta, and Wheeler has 4 goals and 4 assists in 10 games as a Thrasher.   With Tobias Enstrom feeding them the puck from the point, it's a difficult combination for whoever Jacques Lemaire matches up with those players.

One final point: Regardless of how you may feel on either team's playoff chances, this is a pivotal game in the season for both.  I'm stating the obvious, but a loss for either side would be a big blow to their chances. Expect both teams to give it their all in Newark.  As if you needed another reason to go to the game if you're able to do so.

What do you think will happen in tonight's game? Will the Devils win this one in regulation? Will the Devils contain the Little line better than they did on Friday?  Please leave your answers and other comment's about tonight's game in the comments.  If there are any more news during the day, please feel free to bring it up in the comments - just provide a link to the source of the news. Thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils!